'They did nothing' - Mum's anger after new anti-stalking powers not used
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
A stalking victim has accused Norfolk Police of risking her two-year-old son’s safety by not ensuring powerful new anti-stalking measures were used against her abusive ex-boyfriend.
New research reveals that the force has issued only two Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) since their introduction last January, despite reports of stalking in the county having risen fourfold to more than 1,100 in a year.
The orders prevent stalkers from contacting victims online or through an intermediary, and can be issued even in cases which would not pass the evidence threshold for a criminal conviction. Breaching an order can result in a five-year prison sentence.
Megan Campbell, 24, said it was “ridiculous” that forces had been given the capability to intervene in her case but had “done nothing”, leaving her ex free to harass her in precisely the ways the new powers were created to prevent.
Since their introduction by the Home Office in January 2020, any police force has been able to apply to a court for an SPO against an accused stalker, but new research by the BBC data unit has revealed a “postcode lottery” in its use.
Four of England’s 43 forces account for more than half the 427 applications, while others including Suffolk have not applied for a single SPO.
Only four applications were made by Norfolk Constabulary between January 2020 and May 2021, with one rejected and one yet to be considered by the courts.
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Meanwhile reports of stalking have skyrocketed, in part due to a reclassification of harassment by a partner or former partner as stalking.
That brought reports of stalking in Norfolk between March and December 2020 to 1,166, up from 283 in the previous year and 230 the year before.
In Suffolk the figure was 656 up from 233 the year before, with zero SPO applications, and in Cambridgeshire there were 535 reports of stalking, up from 316 the year before. Cambridgeshire Police applied for seven SPOs and had all seven applications granted.
Artist and charity fundraiser Megan Campbell said she felt “disgusted” to learn that the police had powers they could have used against her abusive ex.
Ms Campbell was beaten and emotionally abused week after week by her former partner during a nine-year relationship which began when she was just 15.
In 2019 he was finally convicted of assault by beating and criminal damage, and she fled their Milton Keynes home with her five-month-old son to start a new life in Norwich.
But she told this paper that he has continued to harass her using methods SPOs were created to combat.
She alleges that during 2020 he had a friend contact her on his behalf, that his mother called her while he ranted in the background, that he had an intermediary comment on old social media posts to bring them back to her attention, and that he sent Christmas cards to her and her son, all in contravention of a restraining order.
She said she reported all these incidents to both Norfolk Police, and to Thames Valley Police where the case originated.
Ms Campbell said: “I’m infuriated and I feel that they’ve put my son at risk for the last two years. I’m absolutely disgusted to be honest.
“If they’d just done that [issued an SPO] in January 2020 I wouldn’t have had 14 months of this.
“It’s ridiculous that Norfolk Police and Thames Valley were capable all this time to just get this order to stop him stalking.
“They did nothing and left me in the lurch. This would have protected me and my son, and would have helped me to heal.”
Norfolk Police stressed that SPOs had to be applied for by the force in the area where the perpetrator resides. In this case that is Thames Valley, who had failed to apply for a single SPO by May of this year.
Ms Campbell went on: "As my local force Norfolk did not make me aware this was even a possibility. They have had constant contact with Thames Valley, so when they were aware the stalking was high risk why could they not work together to protect me and my young son?"
SPOs are designed to allow police to act against stalkers at the earliest opportunity, even if a case may not meet the threshold for criminal conviction.
Forces apply to a civil court for the Order, and courts can also impose an interim order to protect victims while a decision is being made.
SPOs remain in place for two years, and breaching the order can result in a prison term of up to five years.
Anti harassment campaigner, Broadland District Council Labour councillor, Natasha Harpley, called the figures “disappointing, particularly at a time when women especially have felt considerably let down in regards to their own safety.”
She went on: “Of the women I know who have recently experienced stalking and harassment, many feel that their cases haven't been taken seriously and were fobbed off or assumed to be dealt with through family court proceedings.
“I'm very concerned that Norfolk Police are not using their new powers and I really hope that it doesn't cause victims to lose even more faith in a system that they were already disillusioned with."
Lisa King, communications director at domestic violence charity Refuge, warned that it is “no good passing the legislation and then letting it become a dusty piece of paper."
She added: “This really should be a wake-up call for police forces across the country to get the training in place, and then start to message also that these orders are there, that women and men can use, so that they are taken up and protection is given."
In England, just 294 orders have been granted since January 2020, despite more than 55,000 stalking incidents being recorded by police between April and December 2020.
Meanwhile latest figures show 59,950 incidents were recorded across England and Wales in the same nine months, almost double the number for the year ending March 2020. The increase is partly down to a reclassification of harassment by a partner or former partner as stalking.
Andy Coller, head of safeguarding at Norfolk Constabulary, said: “SPOs are just one option we can take to protect victims and they must be applied for by the police force in the area where the perpetrator resides. They were introduced last year in January as an additional tool and we made our first application in the March.”
He said the force had been working with the CPS and magistrates to develop a shared understanding of how the orders can be used most effectively, and that the “relatively low” current numbers are likely to increase.
A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said the force had applied for "a number" of SPOs this year, and that SPOs were just one of a number of tactics officers can use alongside restraining orders, domestic violence restraining orders and non-molestation orders.